Review by Frances Akinde

SEND advisor and neurodiversity champion

9 Sep 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Frances Akinde  

What a summer that was! I hope you managed to spend some time “sitting on your arses doing nothing”. God knows you deserved the break.  

Mine was mostly spent on the educational lives of my children, with three at various universities, one starting post-16 education and the youngest starting secondary school. And while adjusting to being a mother of teenagers and adult men rather than young children, my local authority work hasn’t stopped.

I have been pleased to see, however, that teachers and school leaders are being more conscious about taking time out and advising each other to do the same. My social media timelines were filled with staycations and vacations, and some whose summer ended on the unfortunate stress of being stuck abroad due to the air traffic control chaos.

Summer reading

Unlike last year, when it published Education recovery in schools: summer 2022, Ofsted didn’t provide us with much by way of summer reading.  Of course, there were the usual, numerous summer updates from the DfE covering attendance and safeguarding. But in the absence of key concerns from the inspectorate about post-Covid catch-up, some had the time to engage with a more pleasant sort of challenge, though potentially no less impactful in the classroom.

But the absence of an update from Ofsted doesn’t mean one wasn’t needed. A year on, what has changed? Have absence rates dropped? Has the mental health of our children improved? Have exclusion rates decreased? Are reception children starting school with fewer speech and language difficulties? 

We know that quite the opposite is true and that all these areas and more are still major concerns. 

Ofsted did publish its priorities for 2023 back in February, but six months is a long time in education. An update for the new academic year would have been helpful. 

Change at the top

We nearly made it through the summer without any major changes to our ministers, confident that we were going into a new academic year with the same ministers we had ended the last one with. But at the last minute, an unexpected cabinet reshuffle saw the children’s minister, Claire Coutinho move over to environment. David Johnston became the seventh to fill the role since the SEND review started. 

Given the critical responsibilities of the job, which include children in care, mental health, alternative provision, behaviour and school attendance, this was not good news. Many took to social media to express their frustration at the apparent lack of seriousness from government about the critical need for SEND reforms. 

Self-care September

I’m glad that instead of worrying all summer about the challenges in the educational landscape, I chose to do what many other educators spoke about. Catching up with sleep and spending time with special people and in special places. Many vowed to carry this renewed well-being mindset into the new school year, prioritising their self-care.  

Unfortunately, many returned to find their schools getting shut down in full or in part because of crumbling concrete.  Schools not yet affected are rushing around doing emergency surveys so that ministers can find out the true scale of the problem.

So, this might be a good time to flag up the #selfcareforSeptember campaign launched by Action for Happiness, imploring us to remember that ‘self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential’. 

And as we all go back to school, I’m mindful that Gurdeep Singh’s wise words apply to our pupils as well as our colleagues.

On a lighter note, if you want a masterclass in colour coordination, he’s the account to follow.  

So, all that’s left for me to say is I hope you found your keys, remembered where you left your lanyard (try the glove box) and to thank you in advance for striving to do ‘a f**** good job’. 

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